Christiana Nkemdilim Adelana, the Nollywood actress and producer popularly known as Tana Adelana is an interviewer’s delight despite her relatively quiet disposition. The multiple award-winning TV presenter, actor, producer, model and entrepreneur speaks to eelive.ng about her career, family life and Nollywood in this interview.
First, why did you start producing your own films and what is your production experience in Nigeria, what does it look like to be a producer of a film?
First why did I start producing? I started producing because I wanted more. You know, when you’ve conquered certain places, you just want to move on and I’ve always had passion for producing; telling certain stories and for some reason I can’t use someone else to tell that story. I had to find a way to tell my story the way I want. So, that’s what pushed me into producing. And what has it been like? It’s been tough, it’s not easy; every producer will tell you the same thing. It’s not a very easy terrain in Nigeria, so many things working against you, if you’re not talking about the fund you are talking about the technical know-how or generally talking about the ambience, but we are getting there. I believe we are going to overcome it.
What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a person?
The first is funding. I cannot afford to tell the kind of stories I really want to tell. Getting stakeholders in is also a problem. Not everyone believes in Nollywood. Maybe now, everything is changing. It’s been tough for me as my own personal story. Secondly, if you’ve finished producing your film, first thing you want is to tell a story that people will enjoy so you just want to get your story out there. Thirdly, you want to make profit, as a producer I haven’t made that much profit. We have very few cinemas compared to the potential for viewership and even the commercial arrangement with the cinemas is skewed. And you go to Television stations who bought your movies at not too profitable margins because they can always get people to produce cheap movies even if they don’t have the same quality with what you give. All these things really affect the plans and the amount of money we make back.
So having more cinemas will be helpful?
Yes, having more cinemas will be more helpful because you will make more money. Think about it how many people can one cinema screen really take? We are talking about 50 to 200 people. So if you have more cinemas you have more viewing power. You have close to 200 million people who are potential viewers of your content, if you have more cinemas you are making more money. And the cinemas here really don’t leave your movies for more than 4 weeks, so you have just 4 weeks to make all that money back, divide it with the owners of the cinema, divide it with the distributors and then take out your capital before you start talk about profit, so it is tough.
There was something you said about how you started producing because you wanted to tell the story you like to tell. And you also said that you cannot afford… So I assume that you still haven’t been able to tell the kind of stories that you want to tell?
Yes! Not the kind of stories that I want to tell. Of course you have little stories that you can achieve with certain amount of money but then you also have huge stories you need a lot of funds for. So yeah! I’m trying to tell it the way I can but of course there’s no fund to tell biggest ones yet. I like telling epic stories. True African stories that happened in our past and those kinds of stories are not cheap to tell.
Speaking about telling stories the way you want from a director’s role than a producer’s, would you ever consider directing?
Yes! Telling my story as a producer in that aspect means that before I say I want to produce I already have the story in my head, you’ve spoken to your writer and you’ve written it out I already know what the story is. Then I will tell my director this is how I want it. I’ll listen to a director, you know, he’s going to give me his own version of course, and I’m going to give him mine. Sometimes those directors are kind of very stubborn – they want to tell a story the way they want to tell it, but you know it’s my money. So I’m not going to tell you what to do I’m going to give you an idea. So it’s important that you can pick one or two things from what I want to see and then yes add your own expertise into it. And of course, I do want to direct because ultimately that’s where I am going. I plan to sufficiently build my capacity in that area first, by observing and then training. Then, I can launch out.
So when you want to take a role, what are the things that guide you as an actor, what are the things that you look out for in any script that you get?
First, the character, if the character is strong, if the character can send out a message that will help the society. Secondly, if the character is very interesting, if I can submerge myself into that character and watch the film while I am reading the script – that drives me. It may not even tell a profound story but if the character is interesting, and I can watch myself in the film whilst I’m reading the script, that for me is what makes sense.
So that’s what happened with “Body Language”, do you want to tell about that?
I watched the movie while I was reading the script and I didn’t drop the script. You know when I’m also able to read and not drop my script throughout, like oh I want to take a tea break, no. I sat through the script and I read it and found it captivating yes, I take the role. Body Language was different from the norm. I was always telling the good girl story and maybe the occasional bad girl little stories but, that was different. One thing that people seem to have missed about Body Language is that it talked a lot about mental health. You know there are people who live two or three different lives, and they appear normal to you. You know the old saying that many are mad, but just a few are roaming. It was a different story; I’d never done anything like that. And I’ve not even seen it being told properly here.
You went the extra mile in that film, the strip club thing and all, what was your motivation, and would you do it again?
We needed to tell it properly, there’s no point in telling a story you can’t tell properly. So yeah you may take a few extra stuff, but then if you must do it you have to do it. Yes, we are in a conservative society so it’s important that when you are telling a story like that it has to be tastefully done – that way you won’t take away from the story the essence of the film. You know people would enjoy it without judging you for it. And I think that’s what happened; we were able to do that with Body Language. Well if anyone judged me I didn’t hear it. About doing it again, it depends on the story and on how tasteful the directing is.
Why do you always say you are a typical Igbo woman?
I say that to mean that I am business inclined. I say that when people ask me what I would be doing if I wasn’t acting. And I always say, I would probably be importing containers and bringing stuff from China or wherever because that’s what is in my blood as an Igbo woman.
But you don’t do such business now?
I do quite a bit, but I don’t like to talk about what I do outside. I do quite a bit. I build and sell, I buy stuff.
You always talk about Angelina Jolie and Rita Dominic as people you admire, what’s the thing about them?
Angelina Jolie – I can turn down the volume of my television and still find her intriguing. To me she’s a method actor. Acting isn’t about looking pretty, which is why when people watch me, they would realise I don’t really care about what I wear on TV or whether my makeup is super or not. I am usually more interested in my delivery and what I say and how I say it. People like Angelina Jolie inspire me because if you look at her she also doesn’t care about stuff like that and every time you watch her she leaves a mark on you. So I like her, as an actor? She is amazing. And Rita Dominic, as an actor here as well, she’s amazing. She takes her art serious. But I also love that she is very elegant. It’s part of the business, it’s a show business if you can stay and remain elegant there is always a market for you. She’s eloquent, she’s pretty, she’s calm, she’s sexy, and she knows her onions.
You have been married for over one decade and you have kept it all together and out of public view, how do you do that?
Well, first thing first, I keep everything away from the social media; I’ll always say that. Because like I keep saying there about 200 million people in Nigeria who really do not know who you are – the real you, show them what you want them to see not so much as everything about you. People have grown up in different environments, different situations, so they will always judge situations differently. I will judge a situation different from the next person beside me. So if you put your relationship in public glare, you have given 200 million people the right to dissect and analyse your life in the way they understand it, not the way you understand it or the way you are meant to live your life. Safe to say, like every other relationship, mine has its ups and downs, but people would never know because rather than putting it out there, I’d probably sit and solve it within the confines of my home. And if I can’t, I’ll take it to God in prayer, isn’t that what our parents taught us? And when it gets too difficult, you call one or two family members that you can confide in, that’s how it should be! I know the social media has come to take over a lot of things, but I was brought up by old people; there are certain things I would never throw away, those are my core values. I’m not saying that I’m perfect, I’m not saying that I have everything under lock and keys, but that aspect I have to do it the way my mother did it and it worked for her, so I can’t throw that away.
Do you miss TV?
Yes! Yes!! I’m working on my own TV show. Of course I miss TV, but I had to leave TV because there’s something about TV in the world, I left it because I had to have children – you have a child it takes away three years, you have another child and it takes away another three years of your life. Trust me before you come back there are people who have taken over the scene, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. I could have continued, but I also wanted to act so I figured it was a much easier route to take and then I could come back into TV presenting with my own show. You know I would probably have a better control and handle, and then maybe I can do more mature shows than what I’m used to. Because yes, I am relatively young, but because I started in this industry as a kid people tend to count my age and assume oh! She’s 40 oh she’s over 40, no! I started at 16! So it’s best that when I come back as a TV presenter again I’m not going to be doing the “hip-hop, yor, whatever…” Because no matter how young I am, the public is not going to accept me in that light, so I understand that and that’s why I’m just working on my own show for now.